When I was in elementary school, I used to entertain myself in the oddest of ways. I remember taking a a ruler and a fine sharpie marker and drawing a compass (like, the kind you would see in the corner of a map) on a 4×6 index card. And I would carry this around whenever my mom or dad would take us somewhere by car. It would be so much fun for me to sit in the back seat before we pulled out of the driveway, and position my compass so that the E arrow pointed towards the ocean (I knew where the ocean was because whenever the Space Shuttle took off from Cape Canaveral, that’s where we’d look). Then, I would serve as the GPS during the drive, rotating the 4×6 index card in my hand in the direction of North, or East, or South, or West every time we made a right or left turn. Just like I enjoyed brain teasers and mind puzzles, I found so much fun in tackling this challenge. And every time, I would smile in triumphant self-satisfaction if I made it to our destination with my handmade compass pointing in the right direction.
When I was in middle school, I loved taking old pieces of bread, or carrots, or celery, or sugar cubes behind the row of my neighbors’ houses and feeding the goats, sheep, and horses that hung out in the field across the street from where I lived. It filled my heart with happiness to see them notice me approaching, and then start trotting towards me knowing that I had some yummy treats for them to eat. I remember testing my courage by offering them snacks out of the palm of my hand even though I was a bit nervous that I might get bitten in their careless excitement. And I remember lovingly petting or scratching their heads, and how it was a simple pleasure that I always looked forward to, and always wanted to do. Spending a few minutes after school with those farm animals had a sweetness and charm to it, and was somehow both exhilarating and calming at the same time.
I remember testing my courage by offering them snacks out of the palm of my hand even though I was a bit nervous that I might get bitten in their careless excitement.
When I was in high school, I juggled a lot. And I unicycled a lot. And then I juggled and unicycled a lot at the same time. And it was such a blast! I remember saving up for rings, and then clubs, and figuring out how to do each as well as I could. I remember having my dad drive me around Florida so that I could meet up with other jugglers and unicyclists in gymnasiums and parks. I remember thinking I was so incredibly cool – in the most innocent, clueless, and hopeful way – and believing that a cute girl would eventually see me with my circus freak talents, be completely impressed, want me to teach her, and then we would fall in love and get married and live happily ever after. (Side note: Rachel saw me juggling within a few days of us meeting each other at a youth camp in North Carolina, and asked me to teach her, and it allowed us to spend some one-on-one time together in very close proximity – and I am convinced it was one of the things God used in my life to win her heart J). Man, I so loved juggling and I so loved unicycling. I loved how it exercised my mind and my body simultaneously, I loved how it made me feel when I learned a new trick, and I loved how I felt special and mischievous and wonderfully whimsical to be that unique kid with these unique abilities while growing up.
I loved how I felt special and mischievous and wonderfully whimsical to be that unique kid with these unique abilities while growing up.
When I was in college, I listened to music a lot. Pretty much all the time, in the car, in my home, in my office. Music helped me through life. I’d crank up the pop punk or punk rock or hardcore when I needed energy and motivation. And I’d turn on the acoustic rock or emo when I was wrestling with my hopes for life and love in the future, or just needed something to take the edge off. I so enjoyed discovering new indie artists, and going to concerts and being as close to the performers as possible, and getting autographs and catching guitar picks and drumsticks thrown from the stage. I bought merch and would collect band stickers to put on the wall above my computer, and I would wear and rep my favorite bands, and I would be so excited when I met someone else who struck up a conversation with me because we both liked the same artists. Music was majorly important to me.
But I don’t do these things anymore.
We have GPS on our phones, and I have no need for something as silly as a paper compass. But I don’t even think about cardinal directions – or any directions – anymore, and I don’t bother to exercise my mind with anything fun and challenging any more.
I don’t have any pets, and don’t really hang out with any animals at all. And it’s weird, because I know I’m going to be one of those old men sitting in front of a lake someday throwing popcorn at ducks and swans. (We take the time to do it while young and while old, but we have no time or need for it during the decades in between.)
I am very, very rarely juggling or unicycling. It is really sad. I used to do it every day, and it used to bring me so much joy.
And listening to music has become an activity I have to plan. That is so crazy to me.
All of these things were so very important to me, and felt so good in my life. They didn’t feel like indulgences. They felt like soul food. But what I loved doing while growing up has been elbowed out of my life to make room for demands, responsibilities, and pressures that – while they are part of every adult’s daily existence – I wonder if I make much larger than they really need to be.
Just to stay on top of things.
Unfortunately, this is how you lose heart over time.
This is how responsibility and obligation and a desire to control slowly suck the marrow out of life.
Three years ago, I wrote on how adults generally don’t have time for simple pleasures. I remember making some good progress, but I blinked and we had two toddlers and I lost my footing. And so once again I’m trying to catch myself before it’s too late. I know that much of life is constantly under siege of becoming hostage to the tyranny of the urgent. Life and work and family stuff invariably become tougher and more crazy. I can relent and get swept up in the tide, or I can do all that it takes to prioritize responding to the promptings of my basic human needs. And take the time to remember, and engage in, the simple joys I used to love. The things that brought me unadulterated gladness and a real measure of contentment.
I think it pains God to see so many of the simple joys He created for us to delight in pushed out of our life for any reason.
I just can’t resign myself to the belief that a gerbil wheel existence is inevitable. That all of us have to succumb at some time or another, because life is broken and this is just how it is. I think it pains God to see so many of the simple joys He created for us to delight in pushed out of our life for any reason. And honestly, it pains me.
I don’t perfectly know everything I need to do at this point, but I know I can make one decision today that counters the busyness and urgency and pressures I feel. I can choose to engage in an activity I used to consider a simple joy. Even if it’s just for ten minutes – but without distraction or preoccupation or ulterior motives. Something that forces me to step down from this sick cycle carousel because it’s just going to go on and on and on otherwise. It always has, and it always will, and it’s up to me to do something about it. No one else will.
(PS. Today I made Rice Krispies Treats with my three-year old daughter. It’s not much, but it’s a start. And it has made my heart happy.)